Scene by Scene Synopsis
Scene: England and France
Act I, Scene 1: The court of Henry VI is assembled to welcome the King's new bride, Margaret of Anjou whom the Earl of Suffolk has brought to England. The Duke of Gloucester reads aloud the terms of the marriage contract, by which Anjou and Maine, French territories that England had conquered, are ceded to Margaret's father. This so upsets him that he cannot read on. Cardinal Beaufort continues, reading that Margaret shall pay no dowry. The king accepts the terms. He then promotes Suffolk to a dukedom and temporarily suspends the appointment of the Duke of York as Regent of France. The royal newlyweds and Suffolk depart. Gloucester, backed by York, the Earl of Salisbury, and the Earl of Warwick, rails against the marriage contract. He leaves, prophesying the loss of France. The Cardinal suggests that Gloucester, the heir apparent to the throne, is quarrelling only because he seeks to replace the king. He observes that Gloucester is popular and thus doubly dangerous. The Duke of Buckingham agrees and proposes a plot to unseat Gloucester from his position as Lord Protector. The Cardinal leaves to recruit Suffolk for the plot, and in his absence, the Duke of Somerset contends that the Cardinal is himself ambitious to fill the Protector's office. Salisbury and Warwick speak of the good of the country and decide to back Gloucester, an honest and competent Protector. They recruit York to their cause, but when they leave, York, in a soliloquy, confides that he thinks of himself as the rightful king and of Henry as a usurper. He determines that he will ally himself with the backers of Gloucester and await a good time to seize the throne by force.
Act I, Scene 2: The Duchess of Gloucester encourages Gloucester to aspire to the throne, but he rejects the idea and rebukes her for it. A Messenger summons the duke, who leaves. Alone, the Duchess speaks of her intention to pursue the crown for her husband. She summons Hume and arranges for a sťance with a witch and a sorcerer whom he has contacted on her behalf. She pays Hume and leaves, and he reveals in a soliloquy that he is also in the pay of Suffolk and the Cardinal, arranging a scandalous exposure of the Duchess that will bring down Gloucester as well.
Act I, Scene 3: Peter, an armourer's apprentice, reports that his master, HORNER, has heard the Duke of York express a claim to the throne. Suffolk has Peter taken into custody and Horner sent for. The new queen complains to Suffolk that the king seems merely the equal of his noblemen. Suffolk assures her that his plots will undo the noblemen, but that she must be patient. The king arrives with the nobles of the court. They discuss the regency of France; Gloucester backs York for the position. The queen attacks Gloucester, as do Suffolk, the Cardinal, Somerset, and Buckingham. Gloucester storms off, and the queen provokes a quarrel with his wife, striking her, and the Duchess leaves also. Buckingham follows her. Gloucester returns, his anger cooled, and again proposes York for the regency, but Suffolk accuses York of treason, and Horner is brought in. Horner denies having said anything about York and asserts that his apprentice is lying. Gloucester calls for a trial by combat. Peter despairs, saying he cannot fight, but the combat is scheduled.
Act I, Scene 4: Hume assembles the witch Margery Jourdain and the sorcerers Bolingbroke and Southwell to call a spirit for the Duchess of Gloucester. The spirit Asnath appears and is asked about the future of the king. He replies ambiguously. He predicts a death by water for Suffolk, and he advises that Somerset should avoid castles. The spirit is dismissed, and York and Buckingham appear, placing everyone present under arrest.
Act II, Scene 1: The members of the court are hunting with falcons. Gloucester and the Cardinal quarrel to the point of arranging a duel. The king opposes the dispute but cannot stop it. A Citizen of nearby St. Albans approaches, proclaiming a miracle: a man blind since birth can suddenly see. Gloucester interviews the man, one Simpcox, suspecting a fraud, and his clever questioning confirms his guess. Buckingham appears with news of the arrest of the Duchess of Gloucester as a user of witchcraft and leader of a conspiracy against the king. When his enemies gloat, Gloucester announces that, if his wife has indeed done these things, he will reject her and leave her to the process of the law.
Act II, Scene 2: York outlines his claim to the throne to Salisbury and Warwick. Convinced, they swear allegiance to him, but he cautions them that he is not king yet. They should conceal their plot, he says, and wait for Suffolk, the Cardinal, and their allies to bring down Gloucester, who is the most important Lancastrian.
Act II, Scene 3: King Henry sentences the conspirators who were arrested in 1.4. The commoners are sentenced to death. The Duchess of Gloucester will be paraded ignominiously through the streets of London and then exiled. The king orders Gloucester to surrender his staff of office. He does so and leaves. Horner and Peter appear for their trial by combat. Horner, expected to win the contest, is too drunk to fight and is killed by Peter. Dying, he confesses having lied and exonerates his apprentice.
Act II, Scene 4: The Duke of Gloucester witnesses his wife's humiliation in the streets. She forecasts that he will soon be threatened with death by Suffolk and his allies. Gloucester asserts that his unblemished loyalty and honesty will be his protection.
Act III, Scene 1: The queen's clique insists to the king that Gloucester is planning a coup. The king denies it. The Duke of Somerset appears to announce the loss of all the English territories in France. The king accepts this defeat as the work of God, but York is bitter. Gloucester arrives, and Suffolk accuses him of treason. Gloucester leaves under arrest, and the king, saying that he is grief-stricken, relinquishes his authority to the queen's clique and leaves. The conspirators decide that Gloucester is still too dangerous and agree to have him murdered. A Messenger arrives from Ireland with news that a revolt is in progress there. Suffolk assigns York an army and sends him to suppress the rebels. All but York depart, and the duke reveals his plans in a long soliloquy. He exults that he has an army at his disposal, and he plans a rebellion to be staged by his hired agent, Jack Cade. Then he will take advantage of the unrest and seize the throne.
Act III, Scene 2: Several murderers flee from Gloucester's chambers and are met by Suffolk, who promises them their pay for the deed. The king and his court arrive, and Suffolk is sent to summon Gloucester. He returns to announce Gloucester's death. The king faints, awakening to mourn. Margaret responds with an extravagant plaint, lamenting that she will be slandered with implications of guilt and that Henry now wishes her dead. She is interrupted by Warwick and Salisbury, who arrive with a crowd of commoners. Warwick reports that the people are distressed by rumors that Gloucester has been murdered. Warwick examines the corpse and points out signs that the duke was indeed slain. He accuses Suffolk. The two agree to a duel and depart, but they return immediately, just ahead of a mob. Salisbury reports that the people demand death or banishment for Suffolk. The king formally banishes Suffolk from England and leaves with his loyal noblemen. The queen and Suffolk are left to make their farewells, revealing that they love each other. Vaux enters with news that the Cardinal is dying.
Act III, Scene 3: The king, Warwick, and Salisbury witness the Cardinal's death. The delirious Cardinal reveals his guilt.
Act IV, Scene 1: On a beach, members of the crew of a pirate ship assemble their three captives, recently seized from another ship. A Lieutenant of the pirates awards the prisoners to his men, who will collect ransom from them. Suffolk is awarded to the pirate Walter (pronounced 'water' in Elizabethan English) Whitmore, having lost an eye in the battle, insists on vengeance and declares that Suffolk must die. Suffolk recalls his predicted death by water. He identifies himself, and the Lieutenant speaks against him, reciting his political crimes. Whitmore takes Suffolk off to be beheaded. The Lieutenant releases one captive, a Gentlemen, to carry ransom messages to London Whitmore returns to deposit Suffolk's head and body at the feet of the Gentleman, who vows to carry them to the king and queen.
Act IV, Scene 2: Bevis and Holland discuss the rebellion of Jack CADE and join the uprising when the rebels arrive, Cade claims to be a Plantagenet and the proper heir to the crown. Comically, he promises his followers preposterous rewards. One rebel proposes killing all lawyers, and Cade agrees, ranting against the use of documents. The Clerk of Chatham is brought in as a prisoner, and he is sentenced to death for being literate. A Messenger arrives to warn of the approach of troops led by Sir Humphrey Stafford. Stafford insultingly demands that the rebels surrender, but they refuse.
Act IV, Scene 3: In a skirmish, Stafford and his Brother are slain. Cade proposes to march on London.
Act IV, Scene 4: In the king's palace in London, Margaret, carrying Suffolk's head, mourns her lover's death, while Henry and Buckingham plan how to deal with the rebellion. A Messenger reports the approach of the rebels, and Buckingham recommends that the king retreat until the revolt is suppressed. Another Messenger reports that the rebels have reached London and that some of the citizens are rising in sympathy with them. The king and queen depart with Buckingham.
Act IV, Scene 5: A Citizen reports to Lord Scales, the commander of the Tower of London, that the rebels are successfully assaulting London Bridge and that the Lord Mayor has requested Scales' assistance. Scales promises to send aid and issues orders.
Act IV, Scene 6: Cade declares himself Lord of London and commands that the water fountain be made to flow wine for a year. He further declares that it shall be treason to address him as anything but Lord Mortimer. A Soldier enters, calling out for Cade, unaware of the new regulation. Cade orders him set upon, and he is killed. Cade orders that London Bridge and the Tower of London be burned down.
Act IV, Scene 7: Lord Say is brought to Cade's camp. Cade derisively accuses him of various deeds that are usually considered praiseworthy, such as building a grammar school. Say pleads for his life, but, after several exchanges, Cade sends him off to be beheaded with his son-in-law. Some soldiers return with the two heads on poles. Cade orders these trophies paraded through the streets.
Act IV, Scene 8: Buckingham and Lord Clifford offer the king's pardon to all rebels who will declare allegiance to the throne. A great roar of 'God save the king' goes up. Cade counters with a speech that evokes a similar cry in his favor. Clifford, however, seduces the fickle mob back to the king's side. Cade flees.
Act IV, Scene 9: The king laments his fate. Buckingham and Clifford enter and announce Cade's flight. They are accompanied by many former rebels seeking the king's forgiveness, which he grants. News arrives that York has returned from Ireland with a strong army, demanding the removal of the Duke of Somerset. The king, distressed, sends Buckingham to negotiate with York and temporarily orders Somerset to the Tower.
Act IV, Scene 10: Cade hides in the walled garden of an estate and is discovered by its owner, Alexander Iden. After, a brief quarrel, the two fight and Cade is killed.
Act V, Scene 1: York, at the head of an army, announces that he has returned from Ireland to claim the throne, but he observes that he must still pretend loyalty to Henry. Buckingham delivers a message from the king and informs York that Somerset is a prisoner; York accordingly dismisses his soldiers. The king arrives, and York expresses his allegiance. Iden appears with the head of Cade, which he offers to the king. The king knights him. The queen arrives with Somerset. When he sees that Somerset is not in prison, York angrily declares that he shall no longer regard Henry as king and claims the throne for himself. Somerset and Margaret challenge him. York's sons, Edward (future Edward IV) and Richard (Richard III), enter to support him, opposing Clifford and his son, John Clifford, whom the Queen has summoned. Warwick and Salisbury arrive and side with York. Warwick and Clifford vow to fight each other in the battle that is now necessary, and Young Clifford exchanges insults with York.
Act V, Scene 2: York kills Clifford on the battlefield. The younger Clifford discovers his father's body and in a lament, compares death to the Last Judgment. He asserts his intention to kill the children of the Yorkists as they have killed his aged father. York and Somerset enter fighting, and Somerset is slain. York notes that the prediction that Somerset should avoid castles has come true; he has been killed beneath a tavern sign depicting a castle. York exists, and the king and queen arrive in retreat. Henry hesitates, but Margaret insists that they must flee in order to fight again.
Act V, Scene 3: Near the battlefield, Salisbury proposes to York that they should pursue their fleeing enemies. York agrees, as does Warwick, who comments that the battle is likely to become famous.
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